By Jessie Scurfield. The festival of Vezo Aho was the culmination of a year long social marketing project which uses marketing principles to communicate the conservation/ ecological problems associated with some of the fishing methods used by Vezo. The use of poison fishing and beach seining causes a lot of damage and harm to the marine eco system, and the staff at Blue Ventures have been working hard with the fishermen and villagers to fish using other methods. During the festival there were several events taking place but the one I enjoyed the most was the pirogue race. We went down to the village beach to see a fleet of pirogues all lined up at the water’s edge, their sails out and ready. Many were beautifully decorated with the ‘Vezo Aho’ slogan (I am Vezo) and pictures of fish and marine life. I got assigned a pirogue to go in, and the crew assured me it was the champion boat, so I got in and waited for the race to start. The beach was full of spectators and it seemed like most of the village were out to watch, cheering and shouting for their boats to win.
The start of the race required one member of the crew to stand on the beach with a paddle- this ensured the pirogue stayed close enough to the shore and no boat could creep forward. On the signal to start these men all raced down to their boats and the boats set off. The boat I was on worked extremely hard during the start to try and get ahead of the other boats and there was lots of shouting of instructions to each other, tying and re-tying ropes, paddling and leaning to and fro to help push the boat forward. The boats were going so fast and the crew were all expertly handling them, balancing on the out rigger- transferring their weight to help the speed of the boat. It was quite a wet ride but really exhilarating and exciting.
We travelled out and round a small sand bank which had a marshal on checking that all the boats went round it. Unfortunately by the time my boat got to the half way point we had fallen into about sixth place, but the crew continued working really hard to try and improve their position. There was a lot of friendly competition between the boats and if we passed one by there was lots of cheering and shouting and banging on the side of the boat- everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. Our return to the start point and finish of the race, we saw the beach packed with people gathering around the winning boats- there was lots of noise and celebratory cheering. My boat came in fifth which was pretty good- the guys on the boat were so good at sailing it- perhaps their finishing position may have been improved one or two places without me getting in the way- I tried to help by kicking back water for the guy at the back to bail out but there wasn’t much else I could do- it seemed far too skilled for me to able to contribute any further. It was a fantastic experience and an absolute pleasure to be a part of. All the volunteers climbed out of their pirogues at the finish soaking wet but grinning from ear to ear.